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Tallahassee Democrat: July brings improved access to vaccines

Monday, July 09, 2012

This month marks an important advancement in the field of health care as the Vaccine Access Act will take effect, allowing trained pharmacists to administer key vaccinations to Floridians.

As an expert in the geriatric health care and education field, I want to encourage Floridians to take advantage of this opportunity by visiting their physicians or their local, participating pharmacies to learn more and get vaccinated.

The Vaccine Access Act allows certified immunizing pharmacists to administer the pneumococcal (pneumonia) and the varicella zoster (shingles) vaccines. These diseases are especially dangerous to adults 60 years of age and older, which is why increasing access to these vaccines is a critical component to maintaining the good health of senior Floridians. A common misconception is that older people don’t need immunizations. The truth is exactly the opposite — the greatest benefit for individuals in receiving a vaccination is in the older population, because they are more likely to have complications from conditions such as pneumonia or shingles.

An astounding 1 million Americans suffer from shingles every year, and approximately half of them are 60 years old and older. A large percentage of them have a permanent complication — pain in the area of the rash that can last a lifetime. Thanks to the Vaccine Access Act, which Gov. Rick Scott signed into law in April, senior Floridians now have greater access to the prevention. In accordance with the Centers for Disease Control, the vaccine for shingles is recommended in all people 60 years old and older to prevent shingles. The vaccine reduces the risk of getting shingles by over 60 percent and reduces the risk of pain after shingles by two-thirds.

The act also allows for vaccinations fighting against pneumococcal disease, which can cause meningitis, pneumonia or blood infection. In the U.S., 85 percent of pneumococcal disease cases are in adults. The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPV) protects those immunized from 60 percent to 70 percent of strains most likely to cause the invasive disease in adults. It is recommended for all people over age 65, and for those with immune suppression, sickle cell disease, or who have had their spleens removed in surgery. Some people require a second dose even if they had one in the past.

Both conditions can cause pain, suffering, disability and even death. However, now that Florida is joining the nation in broadening its accessibility for vaccination of patients, Floridians have greater options in health care and prevention.

It’s always an opportune time for Floridians to prevent the spread of these diseases and reduce their risk of infection by visiting their local immunizing pharmacy.

As a medical doctor, I can tell you from experience that I welcome the help of trained pharmacy professionals to assist in reducing the risk of seniors of contracting these illnesses. Pharmacists have a strong history of quality service, and it is fitting that they can join other medical professionals in the fight against these diseases. With their help, Florida’s medical community is more prepared than ever to reduce the effects of these diseases.

Should you receive your immunization through a participating pharmacist it is important that you also let your primary care physician know that has occurred.

The best medical care will be possible when everyone gets the preventive medicine they deserve, and all their health care providers are informed. Together physicians and pharmacists can work as a team to help you stay healthy.

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